We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

R, Facebook, Anglosphere?

R is a programming language for statistical analysis and visualisation that I’m taking an interest in for a work project. It’s another open source tool that makes us richer. One way it does that is by being used by Steve McIntyre to plot climate data and replicate (or not) the hockey team’s research.

While researching R, I found R-bloggers, and in particular a post about the use of an R-generated image in Facebook’s IPO filing. The image was originally created a couple of years ago by Facebook intern Paul Butler.

But when Paul switched from plotting every friend pair to instead plotting every city pair with a great-circle line whose transparency was determined by the number of friend-pairs in those cities, something beautiful emerges: a clear image of the world, with friendship bonds flowing between the continents

Paul posted a Facebook page about it and also linked to a high resolution version of the image.

The Anglosphere should be discernable in the image, or at least the original data. Lines from Britain to the USA do look brighter than those from Europe. Many of the lines obscure each other, unfortunately. A 3D version might help.

More map porn can be found on Reddit.

6 comments to R, Facebook, Anglosphere?

  • Malcolm

    It’s hard to see from the image how valid the claim is that there are stronger UK-US ties than UK-EU ties; the English Channel appears quite bright to me.

    But the bigger message that Facebook is pushing is relevant to libertarians too, and this is a useful piece of ammunition in battles over statist control of the Internet.

    For many years there has been a claim by pro-Internet people of a somewhat libertarian bent that the Internet is a Good Thing, in part precisely because it transcends national (read: political) borders, unifies people as individuals and communities of interest and not as political collectives and so forth, and this leads to better understanding, commerce, and world peace.

    For almost as many years anti-Internet people of a statist bent have tried to focus on bad things that happen online (such as fraud, malware, child pornography, and other evils-du-jour) and tried to use these as an excuse to extend State controls to content and activity on the Internet. The non-geographic nature of the Internet, and the opportunities for jurisdictional arbitrage tend to play havoc with this, and not incidentally the anti-Internet people respond with proposals for policies and laws whose effect would be to re-territorialise the Internet, that is, to fragment it into lots of little national Internets with only limited, and thus more controllable, links between them.

    In arguing against laws that would fragment the Internet, big philosophical-level claims that the Internet is on the side of humanity against the narrow meanness of government is a big part of the rhetoric (rephrase according to audience, but you know the basic concept I’m getting at).

    Thus pro-Internet people draw on somewhat nebulous notions of all-humanity-together to justify their opposition to very concrete regulatory proposals, on the grounds that fragmentation of the Internet is self-evidently a bad thing.

    If you’re in favour of Internet fragmentation you’re against the free peoples of the world, peace and commerce, and in favour of tyranny, poverty and war.

    The main response by the anti-Internet statists is not to question the worthiness of the all-humanity-together ideal, but to claim that the contribution of the Internet is massively overstated. “Sure, it helps globalisation for big corporations,” say the statists, “(if you think that’s a good thing, and not everybody does), but it doesn’t really bring people together from across the world in the way you claim. Most people just use it to talk to people they already know in real life; even in matters of trade, most e-commerce is with businesses in your own country (apart from the dominance of American tech and entertainment companies). ”

    “And so we don’t mind turning the Internet back into lots of little national Internets, because we don’t believe it really brings the world together like you claim it does.”

    They say a picture paints a thousand words.

    Next time I hear that answer from the anti-Internet Statists, I plan to put this picture up on a big screen and say “This is what you’re planning breaking“.

  • Absolutely right, Malcolm. I should have made that point in my post.

  • I have plenty of Facebook friends in the US, but I have plenty of Facebook friends in continental Europe, also. Of the various tools that have grown up since the invention of the internet, Facebook is much less segregated in terms of language than most that have preceded it, actually. Newsgroups, blogs etc are generally monolingual things. People on Facebook post in a mix of languages (almost from sentence to sentence) as they do in real life. If you don’t get it from context you muddle through, make a joke about it, ask them (or Google) for a translation, etc etc.

    What is really interesting on this map is that it initially looks like one of those rich v poor maps you get by mapping almost any statistic vaguely correlated to GDP (light at night, electricity consumption, almost anything) but look closer and it really isn’t. It’s much more about politics. South East Asia is a mass of light. (Look at Indonesia. Look at the Philippines), but North of there is just a few islands. Facebook is banned in China (although Beijing and Shanghai just manage to appear, regardless). Taiwan and Hong Kong are interconnected islands. South Korea and Japan are slightly less interconnected islands. Facebook is not banned in Russia, but they don’t seem to use it. Why not? Facebook is much underused in Brazil, too. (And maybe Facebook is underused in India and Japan, too, although it clearly has a big presence in those places anyway). These countries are talking to themselves rather than to other people. (Okay, I knew that already, but it is interesting to see on a map). Turkey is thoroughly connected to Europe. (As with the Philippines, parents are keeping touch with their children abroad).

    I think the interesting thing, ultimately, is that Facebook grows through one on one connections. It started with students in American universities, and then to the people they know, and then to the people they know. The international links followed personal connections and spread the company with them, and not to other way round. So the presence of Facebook in a country follows from the country being international connected.

  • Ken

    I downloaded R a couple of years ago, against the day I end up working somewhere that can’t afford SAS. 🙂 I’ve only had a little time to try it, but I figure if I can learn SAS I can learn R (interested in using it for choice-based conjoint, proportional hazard regression, and structural equation modeling). Neat to see R getting mentions here and there. Its popularity seems to be increasing.

  • One of the things I noticed on the map that was interesting was that the connection between Western Australia and Indonesia is massive. It’s almost as bright on the map as the connection between Western Australia and eastern Australia.

    Also the sheer number of people in Indonesia who use Facebook was surprising as well. Outside of Europe and North America it’s most definitely the brightest part of the map.

  • Part of this is the simple human density of Indonesia, and the island of Java in particular. One not all that large island has a population of 135 million people. The continent immediately to the south (Australia) only has about 23 million.